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Abortion: advice for men

Because pregnancy, childbirth and parenting have such an enormous impact on a woman’s life, men often feel that they do not have a role to play in the decisions that need to be made about pregnancy.

However, many men want to express their feelings, to offer their support and to be involved in the decisions about their partner’s pregnancy.

Whilst professionals must ensure that women are supported to make the decision that’s right for them, there is increasing recognition that men can and should be involved as much as is possible in the choices and decisions that pregnancy entails.

Men's rights and pregnancy

Men have the right to avoid conceiving unplanned pregnancies either by choosing not to have sex or to use condoms: currently condoms are the only form of contraception over which a man can take full responsibility.

Beyond this, men have few rights in a decision about their partner’s pregnancy because the law makes no other provision:

  • If a woman chooses to continue with a pregnancy he may be held financially responsible for the upbringing of the child, regardless of their relationship or his part in the child’s life
  • If she chooses to have an abortion she may do so without his agreement

Men's rights and abortion

Her partner may be the first person a woman turns to when she discovers she is pregnant and so his views may very well influence her decision. However, under UK law he has no legal right to make her have an abortion or to prevent her from having one. Instead, any decision to have an abortion must be approved by two doctors who agree with the woman that it is in her best interests to have one.

Involving men in pregnancy decision-making

Men’s experiences of involvement in decisions about pregnancy vary widely.

  • Some men may be very supportive of their partners and involved in a decision that is mutually agreed
  • Some men may have no involvement because she may choose not to inform him that she is pregnant or to include him in any decisions regarding it
  • Some men, sometimes through coercion or abuse, may become the sole decision-makers

Reasons why some men are consulted and involved

  • Couples in a happy, committed relationship may feel more able to talk to each other about their feelings, opinions and anxieties
  • They may have talked about their current circumstances and how children could impact on their lives
  • They may have discussed their hopes for the future and talked about how and when children fit this picture
  • A woman may feel more confident in involving her partner if they both understand that when faced with unplanned pregnancy, and an unsure outcome, that it is not possible to compromise - so someone must make that final decision
  • Most people accept that because the woman will be more directly affected by the pregnancy, she is the best person to make the final decision, having listened to her partner’s thoughts and feelings

Reasons why some men are not involved

  • Some women are anxious to conceal pregnancy if they feel they will be blamed or punished by their partner for failing to use contraception effectively
  • Women who become pregnant as a result of casual sex might choose not to tell the man she has become pregnant at all
  • Women who are pregnant as a result of rape may not want to or be able to communicate with the man responsible
  • Some women do not believe that the man has any right to participate in the decision about pregnancy as it is her body that is affected by the pregnancy
  • Some women are discouraged from involving their partners by family or friends, if for example they disapprove of him

Reasons why some men are the sole decision makers

Sometimes a man who is having an abusive or incestuous sexual relationship with a woman might use the threat of violence to make her choose an abortion or to prevent her from having one.

Sometimes family members may prevent a woman from having an abortion or try to force her into one because of their ideas about pregnancy, sex outside of marriage or abortion.

Fear of intimidation or violence within a relationship can make it increasingly difficult for a woman to act on her right to make a decision about either sex or pregnancy, leading the man to become the sole decision maker. Recent evidence suggests that the incidence and severity of domestic violence often increases when a woman becomes pregnant.

Why a woman might be anxious about involving her partner

A woman who is undecided about her pregnancy might feel that she is very vulnerable to pressure from other people and might want to talk to a professional to clarify her own thoughts and feelings before she talks to her partner or family.

She might think she already knows what her partner will think and say about the pregnancy.

She might think he will not be supportive of her decision.

Why men want to be involved in the decision making

Most men accept that the final decision about pregnancy should rest with the woman, but need an opportunity to express their feelings about the pregnancy. If a man has a chance to say how he feels he might feel satisfied that his partner understands and has heard his feelings and can take them into account as she makes her decision.

It might be that both partners feel the same way about the pregnancy in which case the woman will find her partner a good source of support.

Even when they are not agreed about whether or not to proceed with a pregnancy it can be helpful to hear each others’ opinions. Hearing a woman’s reasons for continuing with her pregnancy or ending it can help her partner to sympathise with her situation and dilemma and give him a better insight into her thoughts and feelings. This may enable him to support her in her decision even if it isn’t what he would have wanted her to do.

How can men support their partners

  • Listen to your partner. Almost everyone will have an opinion about her pregnancy. Make sure she’s had a chance to express her thoughts
  • Help her to think through the pros and cons of the pregnancy. For help doing this see the pregnancy decision making page
  • Let her know what you think and feel
  • Make sure she goes to an appropriate agency that will help her to make up her own mind about the pregnancy, free of pressure. For more information see your right to good services
  • Accompany her to speak to her GP or family planning clinic so that she can talk to a professional. Remember that most professionals will want to spend some time talking to her on her own
  • Help her break the news of her pregnancy to other family members if she is worried about their response
  • Encourage her to make the decision that is right for her
  • Find out relevant information about her options
  • Be realistic about what support you are able to give her

How do men feel after abortion?

How a man feels after his partner has had an abortion is likely to relate to his original feelings about the abortion. If he opposed the abortion because he was keen for his partner to continue the pregnancy - and because he felt strongly that he was ready to become a father/have another child at this point - he may feel disappointed and even resentful towards his partner. However, if he has had an opportunity to say how he feels in advance and to hear her reasons for wanting to end the pregnancy he may feel sad, but accept the situation.

Even some men who were keen for the pregnancy to continue may feel relief once the crisis of the pregnancy decision-making dilemma is resolved and his partner has made up her mind. Sometimes conflict over the outcome of a pregnancy will show up fundamental differences in the aspirations and life plans of a couple and this may lead a relationship to end - whether the woman has chosen to continue a pregnancy against the wishes of her partner or to have an abortion.

For men who wanted their partner to end the pregnancy they are likely to feel a personal sense of relief which is a very common response for women who freely choose abortion. The more confident she is about her decision the more - research tells us - she is likely to feel positive following the abortion.

Even when both partners have agreed that abortion is the best option for them they may still sometimes think about what it would have been like for them and their relationship if they had continued the pregnancy. It's human nature sometimes following a big decision to occasionally ask yourself 'what if I had chosen the other option?'

If the decision to end the pregnancy was based on a recognition of current obstacles - for example the couple not living in the same town, lack of housing or resources, incomplete education etc - then the abortion may provide some breathing space for them to plan together what they need to do and a timeframe for putting in place the changes that would provide better conditions for them to have a child together.

Page last reviewed: April 2016
Next review due: April 2018